McClendon: Safeco won't hinder Mariners' muscle

McClendon: Safeco won't hinder Mariners' muscle

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Mariners are less than three weeks away from Opening Day at Safeco Field, but manager Lloyd McClendon delivered a clear message on Thursday about Seattle's home field.

Asked about the reputation of Safeco Field as a tough hitter's park, McClendon replied with a scoff and pointed to Detroit as a much more difficult stadium for offense.

"It's false," McClendon said of Safeco's perception. "I mean that. Go to Comerica if you want to see a big ballpark. It's 430 [feet to] straightway center and 415 in right-center. Safeco is not a big place."

The Mariners shortened the fences at Safeco in 2013, but the park has continued to produce some of the lowest offensive numbers in baseball. Seattle ranked last among the American League's 15 teams last season at home in runs, batting average, on-base percentage and OPS. The Mariners were 12th in slugging percentage and tied for eighth in home runs at home.

McClendon believes much of that lies on the Mariners themselves, however, and said the reputation is based on old information.

"It used to be big," he said. "It's not big anymore. The fences are in. Listen, Washington came in, and they made Safeco look real small. [Nelson] Cruz hit the ball out and made it look real small. It looks big when you've got guys that have their puppy muscles. When they get their man muscles, it becomes small. It'll be small for us now, trust me."

Cruz smoked a line-drive homer out of Safeco during an Orioles game in late July, and the Nationals clubbed eight home runs in a three-game series in late August. Cruz now plays for the Mariners, of course, having signed a four-year, $57 million deal to join a lineup that also includes six-time All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano.

Seattle also added veterans Rickie Weeks, Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano this offseason in the hope of bulking up its offensive attack. First baseman Logan Morrison is another capable power hitter, and third baseman Kyle Seager ripped 16 of his 25 home runs last season at home.

Do the Mariners have enough guys with man muscles now instead of puppy muscles?

"Go out there and stand next to 'em, you'll see," McClendon said. "They're pretty big. Pretty impressive. But Safeco is not a big ballpark. In the gaps, left-center, when it's cold at times, it doesn't carry as much. But it's not a big ballpark. It's a very fair ballpark. It doesn't kill hitters either."

McClendon did acknowledge that Safeco is a tough place to hit when the weather is cold, but noted that's true "in every ballpark."

In other Mariners news on Thursday:

• Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez continues to be hampered by a sore right groin muscle that has sidelined him since March 8.

"He's coming along, but not as fast as we'd have liked," McClendon said. "Obviously, he's behind the eight ball a little because he hasn't been able to get out there. Our hope was he'd be able to play Tuesday. But it's day to day."

Hisashi Iwakuma will throw a simulated game against Minor League hitters on a back field on Monday instead of starting that day's game against the AL West-rival Angels.

• Seattle's pitching probables for the next five days are Roenis Elias on Friday at the Rangers, Felix Hernandez on Saturday at the Cubs, James Paxton making his Cactus League debut on Sunday against the Rangers in Peoria, Erasmo Ramirez at the Angels on Monday and J.A. Happ in what is designated as a road game on Tuesday against the Padres in Peoria.

The Saturday game in Mesa looms as a pretty good pitching matchup between Hernandez and new Cubs ace Jon Lester.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.